US & Canada

Search in US Army helicopter crash called off

Debris believed to be from a downed Army helicopter washes ashore along the intercostal waterway in Navarre, Florida 11 March 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption Debris believed to be from the helicopter washed ashore

US officials have ended a search for seven marines and four soldiers believed to have been killed in a helicopter crash in Florida.

"The decision to suspend is always difficult," Layne Carter, search and rescue coordinator, said on Thursday.

The helicopter crashed near Pensacola during a training exercise from Eglin Air Base.

Divers have found the wreckage of a UH-60 helicopter - known as Black Hawk that crashed amid dense fog on Tuesday.

But continuing bad weather on Thursday prevented the recovery of the flight recorder from wreckage 25ft (7m) deep.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Crews searched the beach for debris on Thursday

The Louisiana National Guard has confirmed two of their soldiers died and they believe two more "remain with the aircraft".

Officials with the Guard said nine bodies had been recovered in total, according to the Pensacola News Journal.

"At this point, we're not hopeful for survivors, and we are transitioning our Search and Rescue to a recovery effort," Colonel Monte Cannon, of the Louisiana National Guard said.

And officials at Camp Lejeune, where the Marines were based, said they were "not hopeful of finding any survivors".

Much of the area was enveloped in fog on Tuesday evening, said Katie Moore with the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, with visibility at two miles (3.2km) or less.

During a hearing in Washington on Wednesday, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said "all our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families as the search and rescue operation continues".

Image copyright AP
Image caption Heavy fog has covered the area on Tuesday evening

The accident is under investigation.

"It was certainly a high-impact crash," said Eglin Fire Chief Mark Giuliano.

Dozens of airmen walked the nearby beach on Thursday to search for debris as the Coast Guard searched the water.

Pieces of clothing and bits of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter have washed ashore, and homeowners have contacted the military to pick it up, Mike Spaits, a base spokesman, said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The UH-60 helicopter, like this one, was on a training exercise

A second helicopter participating in the routine training mission returned safely.

Both aircraft are assigned to the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion in Hammond, Louisiana.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A vigil was held on Wednesday

Their names are not being released while relatives are notified, but the Associated Press news agency reported the helicopter had a veteran crew from that served multiple tours in Iraq and helped with humanitarian missions after the Gulf Coast hurricanes and the BP oil spill.

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